Minister Nzimande unveils the Alice Student Village - SA's largest student housing development

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Improved and dignified campus life experience is no longer a dream, but a reality for students of the University of Fort Hare. On 31 May 2021, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr. Blade Nzimande officially unveiled phase 2 of the greenfield multi-million rand Alice Student Village - SA’s largest student housing development.

Comprising 2050 beds, the development has enabled the university to be the first and only higher learning institution to accommodate 70% of its student population (6049 students) on campus. 
 
The development is a culmination of a resilient partnership between UFH, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and the European Union (EU). Phase 1, comprising 5 blocks and 610 beds was completed in 2016. DHET contributed R137 million, while UFH contributed R18 million towards the initial phase of the project. 
 
The completion of Phase2 which came at a cost of R419 million was made possible by a R122 million infrastructure funding provided by DHET, R278 million loan funding from the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and the university’s contribution of R19.6 million. The second phase comprises 12 blocks and 1440 beds. 
 
During construction, the Infrastructure Investment Programme of South Africa (IIPSA), funded by the European Union, awarded a direct capital grant of R28 million to UFH, which the university could draw on to pay the interest portion on the DBSA loan. 
 
The launch event began with a tour of the university’s heritage sites and was followed by the formal programme held at the newly-built student centre.
 
Mr Njabulo Zuma UFH Registrar, welcomed the esteemed guests which included senior officials from DHET, DBSA, the EU, UFH management and Council and former Administrator, Mr Nhlanganiso Dladla. 
 
Sharing the purpose of the day, Prof Renuka Vithal – Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs applauded the role played by the different stakeholders, inside and outside of the university. She also implored students to treasure their new homes for generations to come. “No one dares to destroy a part of it,” she said. 
 
Delivering the keynote address, Minister Nzimande said the launch is a celebration of a fruitful collaboration between the funders and the university. “Such a significant investment in historically black universities registers our commitment to disrupt and transform the long history of unequal spatial, institutional and social development which had marked the development of our higher education for over a century.” 
 
“The provision of accessible, decent, safe and academically conducive student accommodation at all our post-school education and training institutions is of great importance in order to provide quality teaching, learning, research and innovation spaces. It is even more important and historically significant with respect to the historically black universities.” 
 
The Minister said UFH certainly occupies a distinctive and unique historical place, not only amongst its higher education peers but also in the memory of the struggle against colonialism and apartheid. “UFH has an iconic place as the cradle of academic and intellectual training for generations of African professionals and leaders not only in South Africa but across the African continent, many of whom became the architects of post-colonial reconstruction and development.” 
 
“It is after all here (in Alice) where leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Oliver Tambo, ZK Matthews, Chris Hani, Ivy Florence Matsepe-Casaburri and pioneers such as the writer Can Themba and South Africa’s first black female doctor, Mary Malahlela-Xakana, honed their knowledge and skills before their pioneering roles in society. We owe it to these pioneers to ensure that Fort Hare is restored to its rightful place in the development of our democracy.” 
 
The Minister gave assurance that government and his ministry were committed to revitalizing, stabilizing and transforming Fort Hare to become one of the leading universities in SA and in Africa. True to his word, Minister Nzimande made a commitment to assist the university to revamp the old Alice Library structure. “We have heard your cry and we will work together for this university to get a new library in this Alice campus”, he said to thunderous applause from the audience. 
 
Bishop Ivan Abrahams, Chairperson of the UFH Council, said the new residence will certainly make a qualitative difference in the lives of our students. “UFH is committed to knowledge production and innovation which addresses the challenges of transforming our country and allowing our students to compete in the global economy. We are on a journey of renewal that will allow this university to reclaim its iconic space as a premier institution of higher learning.” 
 
The VC, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu said the impact of the development was huge. “This is the largest single development in the history of the university. Also, this is a large project in a town called Alice which is small and broken. For us, this is a vote of confidence in the town and this campus.” 
 
The VC said the new student village addresses critical student accommodation shortages in Alice. “The standard and the quality - we went one notch up. The village is designed to bring students together as communities and to live in dignity.” “Students’ choice of a university is not only about reputation or international ratings. It is also about the quality of student residence’ life.” 
 
He further stated that the completion of the student housing development is an important milestone for the university’s ‘Decade of Renewal’ master plan, which is setting the university on an ambitious trajectory of reinvention in the 21st century. 
 
“Alice campus will become the campus of choice. If you want to see the Fort Hare of the future, look at this project. The idea of Fort Hare being a dysfunctional and badly run institution is gone.” 
 
The DBSA was represented by Ms Zodwa Mbele, Group Executive – Transacting and the EU was represent Mr Augustin Bondo Tshiani, Head – Economic Cooperation and Infrastructure. Both expressed appreciation for the opportunity to be investors in such an impactful projet. 
 
Speaking on behalf of the UFH Convocation, its President, Advocate Andile Mini praised the VC for steering the ship towards the realization of a true Fort Hare dream and enabling the revamping of the university’s main campus – also a heritage site. He referred to UFH as a place that should discuss and find African solutions. He also revealed some parts of the broader Alumni and Convocation 10-point plan: to reconnect alumni to their alma mater in the SADC region, fundraising and restoring the prestige of the university. 
 
Interim SRC President, Siphiwo Ngcenge also shared words of appreciation for the project on behalf of the student community.
 
As the programme came to a close, Prince Zolile BurnsNcamashe, representing STAG Africa (Developers) handed over the keys to Dr Nosisa Mayaba, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Support, to signify completion of the project. 
 
The programme ended with a heartfelt message of appreciation rendered by Dr Siphokazi Koyana, Deputy Chairperson of the UFH Council.
 
By Aretha Linden and Mawande Mrashula